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Small-scale fishers were hit hard under lockdown

A new WWF report highlights the difficulties small-scale fishers experienced under the lockdowns of 2020 – and how these continue to impact these communities.

The report, titled “Lockdown lessons from South Africa’s fisheries: Building resilience in small-scale fishing communities”, found that the industrial fishing sector was better able to absorb the stressors and shocks of last year’s lockdowns, due to their greater access to finances, networks and other resources
However, the same cannot be said about the small-scale fisheries sector. Small-scale fishers had difficulty adapting to the sudden changes and limitations in operations brought about by the various phases of the lockdown. These impacts were also not equal: small-scale fishers in some coastal provinces faced more devastating impacts than others.
Formally recognised fishers were seen as providing an essential service and were awarded permits to fish during lockdown. Yet in practice there were many challenges in obtaining these permits and being able to fully utilize the permits given the travel restrictions. There were also instances where they were prevented from doing so by authorities. Fishers who were not formally recognised could only operate using a recreational permit, yet recreational fishing was prohibited during the early stages of the “hard” lockdown. As a result, many fishers suffered a shortage of protein and food.
The report notes that the Covid-19 pandemic and associated lockdown amplified the many pre-existing vulnerabilities of small-scale fisheries. Many are still excluded from formal supply chains and the inequities and inequalities of the past have not been fully addressed.
However, it is not all negative, there are indications that functional co-operatives help fishers navigate sudden shocks by building resilience in small-scale fishing communities. However, this can only occur if there is adequate capacity and if fishers are empowered in the fisheries supply chain.
Monica Betts Stassen with WWF’s Marine Portfolio commented: “There is an urgent need for training, improved education and better infrastructure in many of the co-ops so that small-scale fishers can successfully interact within the seafood supply chains. Recovery from shocks requires a collaborative stakeholder approach. Institutions and markets that operate in and around fishing communities can help to improve the resilience of small-scale fisheries by working with and supporting the co-operatives and the communities in which they operate.”

The Kogelberg fishing community was among those hard hit by the initial lockdown.

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